Sunday, 31 July 2011

Planning a Cruise

Where in the world will you cruise?
Part of the fun of cruising for me is in the planning: looking at travel brochures and cruise companies' websites; talking to others who've been on cruises; checking newspaper advertisements for up-coming voyages.
   Then comes the hard part - which cruise to choose?
   For us, deciding on a cruise comes down initially to three things:
  • Itinerary - where do we want to go? Somewhere new or places we've been before? An itinerary with many ports of call or lots of sea days? Will it involve long plane flights to get to or from inital or end ports?
  • Time -how long can we be away from 'real life' commitments at home?
  • Money - how much will it cost? What will the extra expenses above the actual cruise cost?
   Once we have those questions sorted, we get down to the details.
  • The cruise line - should we keep cruising with one or two preferred lines to qualify for increasing 'past passenger' benefits? Or try something new?
  • The ship - shall we cruise on a favourite ship or its sister ship? Or go on one we don't know?
  • The stateroom - which type and category of cabin? Where do we want to be situated? Which deck would be best?
  • When to book the cruise - should we book early on to get the cabin we want and the 'earlybird' special price?  Or should we wait till the last minute to get even more discounted rates and take a chance on the cabin?
   So many decisions! So much fun to plan!

Tuesday, 26 July 2011

About ms Volendam

Volendam docked in Sydney
Our cruise came to an end in Sydney, Australia. It had been a thoroughly enjoyable, relaxing, interesting, calm seas and blue skies voyage, our second cruise on the 'Volendam'. Previously we had sailed on her from Sydney to Singapore.
  Over the 14 days on the New Zealand and Australia itinerary, we travelled 3,214 nautical miles at an average cruising speed of 16.7 knots. We visited 10 ports of call and had 5 sea days. On this cruise she carried 1342 guests and 598 crew.
   'MS Volendam' is registered in the Netherlands. Her maiden voyage was in 1999 with a refurbishment carried out in 2005. After our cruise the 'Volendam' was sailing on to Singapore to go into dry dock for 2 weeks. All staterooms would be redecorated during this time and cabin furniture reupholstered.
Porcelain tulip vase on Volendam
Italian artwork on Volendam
    A feature of the ship is its floral theme. Huge flower arrangements brighten the public areas. There are paintings and sculptures of flowers as well as floral-themed fabrics.
    The 'Volendam' also has an million dollar-plus art collection. Ranging from Inca statues to Oriental jade sculptures to enormous Italian 'head' wall plaques, the art adds a great element of interest to the decor of the ship. I enjoyed doing an audio tour of the collection.
    The ship is elegant and, being mid-size with extra large public areas, it never feels crowded. Just the thing for a relaxing holiday.

Sunday, 24 July 2011

In Port Melbourne for a Day

Inscription at Port Melbourne
There was a great view of the Melbourne skyline and the huge sweep of the bay from the dock at Port Melbourne. Easy too to get into the central city on the rapid rail at the end of the wharf area. But we chose to stay at Port Melbourne and not to rush around. It was yet another beautiful day - we had been so lucky with the weather on this cruise.
    This plaque set into the pavement at Port Melbourne amused me. I've been trying to reword it to suit me - 'You can't take the girl off of the cruise ship...'
   The first thing I did was take off my sandals and walk barefoot along the beach. From the wharf, the beach stretches for miles and there is a wide landscaped path around the foreshore, busy with joggers, mothers pushing prams and skateboarders.
    The whole area of Port Melbourne has been developed in recent years into upmarket apartment buildings with stunning seaside locations and views, and a range of eating places. We met an old friend, now a resident of Melbourne, for lunch in one of the restaurants there. That was a chance for a great talk and catch-up!
    A wooden bench at the end of the wharf, made from timbers off the old Station Pier, commemorates the early settlers who came here after 'long and difficult' voyages. My ancestors were among them in 1862. Strange to think that I was walking in the same place they did 150 years ago!

Wednesday, 20 July 2011

A Mayoral Welcome in Burnie, Tasmania

Burnie's mayor welcoming passengers
Arriving in Burnie, Tasmania, our first Australian port of call, gave us another 'I feel like royalty' moment! At the bottom of the gangway the mayor of the city, resplendant in his velvet robes and gold chains of office, was waiting to greet us all personally as we disembarked.
    City volunteers took over then, ushering us onto the free buses that would take us from this working port into the town. We were each given a copy of a specially printed newspaper to mark our visit. In the main city centre there were sign boards out welcoming cruise ship passengers and lots of very friendly locals happy to talk to us. We certainly got a genuine 'Tassie' welcome!
    The guide books like 'Lonely Planet' and 'Fodors' were not exactly fulsome in their praise of the city. In fact they gave the impression that there was not a lot to do there. But we had a fantastic day.
    The Makers Workshop is a modern, seaside complex dedicated to the paper-making history of the city and to local artisans and artists. We saw paper being made, talked to craftspeople and shopped in the fantastic gift department.
     I went to the library to research some family history, and was thrilled to find details of an ancestor who arrived in Tasmania in 1855. Pete visited the museum with its layout of replica shops and buildings from the city's colonial era.
    Then to top off an excellent day, bagpipers serenaded our departure and a pod of common dolphins escorted the 'Volendam' out through Emu Bay. Full speed ahead to Melbourne!

Sunday, 17 July 2011

Holland America Line's Crew Training

Crew members on board Volendam
Smiles, courtesy and a desire to please are common traits among the largely Filipino and Indonesian crew members on Holland America Line cruise ships. How they remember passengers' names and favourite tipples is a miracle! One sweet waitress, who served us at the Pinnacle Grill one night for dinner, greeted me with "Hello, Miss Wendy" every time she saw me from then on around the ship - and I was only one of over 1400 cruisers on board.
     When I went to a talk on 'Life Below Deck', I was interested to learn about the crew training programmes. Holland America has built two schools for that purpose, one in Manilla, the other in Jakarta. Here crew members learn their jobs in conditions that simulate a real cruise ship. They live in cabins, cook in galleys, learn waiting, bartending and housekeeping skills in real restaurants, bars and staterooms.
   This gives them a chance to see if they are cut out for a life at sea - on 8 month contracts, working split shifts with no days off, living in a small space, always with other people around. As one of the officers said, "You might be the best chef in the world but if you can't handle the living conditions, you're no good to us!"
   Perhaps life on the ocean wave is not as glamorous as it first seems!

Thursday, 14 July 2011

The Great Dessert Extravaganza!

For the last few days, the excitement had been building. Our cabin stewards and waiters had been dropping hints. "Wait till you see all the chocolate," they'd been saying. Soon all would be revealed in the great Dessert Extravaganza!
    The daily program stated that 'the buffet opens for photos at 10:15 p.m. and service begins at 10:30 p.m.' So, armed with my camera, I went up to the Lido deck. What a surprise! Around the four sides of the swimming pool were long tables, absolutely laden with desserts in all shapes and sizes.
  There was a fluorescent green Shrek, made of marzipan and chocolate. A galleon in full sail, made of chocolate. Chocolate cakes, chocolate slices, chocolate squares. It was a full-on chocolate overload!
    In one corner a chef was making Crepe Suzettes; in another, all sorts of bread dough figurines were displayed. The variety and colour of all the different desserts, some made into whimsical scenes, was amazing.
   All the passengers entered into the spirit of the evening, taking lots of photographs and making sure the chefs' and pastry makers' efforts didn't go to waste!  A little bit of this cake, a taste of that one, oh, all right I'll have another piece, yes, that looks delicious, I'll try that too!  And what about a piece of this? Why not! Yum!  

Monday, 11 July 2011

Milford Sound on the Cruise Ship

Stirling Falls, Milford Sound
Milford Sound is the jewel in the crown of Fiordland National Park, and seeing it from the deck of a cruise ship is spectacular! This is the second time I've been there on a cruise: the first was in the early morning on the 'Sapphire Princess'. We watched the sun rise over Mitre Peak, gradually touching the tops of the mountains with light. The water in the fiord was black and still. All was quiet.
   This time on the 'Volendam' we entered Milford Sound much later in the day. There were a few other small boats about and the sun was high. The atmosphere was very different. I'm glad I've seen it at both times.
   Because the 'Volendam' is a smaller ship, we were able to go further up the fiord. We swung in close to the Stirling Falls, a mighty torrent that pours hundreds of metres down the cliff face. Not far from there fur seals were lolling on the rocks and a kayaker paddled past us.
At Milford Sound
   The sheer slopes of the high mountains, some of them holding patches of snow, plunge straight down into the very deep, dark water. The fiord really is impressive. We spent a couple of hours cruising there before returning to the open sea. And to complete a fascinating day of scenic cruising in this World Heritage area of outstanding natural beauty, a pair of Royal albatross followed us as we headed out into the Tasman Sea.
   Next stop in a couple of days - Burnie, Tasmania.

Saturday, 9 July 2011

Doubtful Sound: Scenic Cruising

Doubtful Sound, New Zealand
That intrepid explorer, Captain Cook, didn't go into Doubtful Sound as he was 'doubtful' if he'd get out again, considering the way the wind was blowing. But our Captain Peter Bos had no such qualms, taking the 'Volendam' into the entrance of the fiord to the south of Secretary Island.
   There is an interesting natural phenomenon that occurs at the mouth of Doubtful Sound. A distinctive line of froth marks the point where the freshwater of the fiord meets the salty seawater.
Where the salt water and fresh water meet
   The steep-sided, bush covered mountains plunge into the water, dwarfing the fishing boats that were in the fiord. We saw seals sunbathing on a rocky outcrop, a pod of dolphins swam along beside us and albatross glided nearby.
   From Doubtful Sound we cruised into Thompson Sound, so still and quiet, before heading north again on our way to Milford Sound.

Thursday, 7 July 2011

Scenic Cruising in Dusky Sound

On a cruise ship in Dusky Sound, Fiordland
What a great thrill it is to visit this outstanding area of natural beauty, World Heritage Fiordland in New Zealand, on a cruise. Dusky Sound is inaccessible by road so being able to go there in a ship is extra special.
   So there I was, reclining on a steamer chair on the Promenade Deck, wrapped in a tartan blanket against the brisk, chilly wind, sipping a mug of steaming hot pea and ham soup, and watching the same untouched scenery that Captain Cook saw when he sailed into Dusky Sound in 1773.
   We spent an hour or so cruising; Captain Cook and his crew stayed here for several weeks, making repairs to his ship 'Resolution', hunting seals and birds and catching fish to give the crew fresh food.
   This photo shows the 'Volendam's' passage between Resolution Island and the mainland before we headed back out to sea, on our way north to visit Doubtful Sound.

Monday, 4 July 2011

Albatross Shore Tour From Dunedin - Wildlife Capital of New Zealand

Royal Albatross at Taiaroa Heads, Dunedin
It was easy to arrange our own shore tour for our day in Dunedin. A pre-booked rental car was waiting for us at the wharf at Port Chalmers so off we went - to see the albatross colony at Taiaroa Heads.
   The Royal Albatross Centre is on the historic headland at the entrance to Dunedin Harbour. Here, on the steep, wind-swept slopes, is the world's only mainland colony of Royal albatross. I had booked a tour of the site before we left home. This started in the Visitor Centre with a talk and slide show about these fantastic birds.
   I was stunned to learn that the young birds don't practise flying. One day, they get up off the nest, spread their long, long wings, lumber down the hill and take off - then don't return to land for five years!
   From the observatory further up the slope we could see five albatross nests on the flattened grass. One mother was fussing over her fluffy chick. The other nests had solitary young birds waiting patiently for their parents to return with food.
   It was amazing to see albatross flying so close to us. You don't appreciate just how big their wing spans are until you see one coming towards you, literally floating on the wind. The birds can lock their shoulder joints so they become like fixed wing aircraft, skimming the waves and riding the winds, expending less energy than if they were paddling on the sea's surface. They are truly masterpieces of aerodynamic engineering.

Saturday, 2 July 2011

ms Volendam: The Thermal Suite in the Greenhouse Spa

Relax in Volendam's thermal suite
What bliss this sanctuary in the Greenhouse Spa is! Tranquil, warm, with great views forward and starboard. Slip on a white cotton bathrobe, pick up a towel and lie on the heated, mosaic tiled recliners, bathe in the jacuzzi, meditate to the sound of  water trickling from the fountain, or take a rainforest shower. Time spent in the thermal suite is time to relax and refresh. You deserve it!
   If you feel thirsty or slightly peckish, you can go to the room next door where refreshments are laid out. You can choose from a selection of herbal teas and juices, and platters of sliced fresh fruit. Then curl up with a book on one of the rattan loungers in front of the window, or perhaps even have a snooze, because after your thermal experience you will feel sooooo relaxed! Wake me up in time for dinner!